Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Airline fees: We gripe, we moan, we ultimately pay.

The recent news that Frontier Airlines has joined Spirit and Allegiant in charging all kinds of fees was not as surprising as it was inevitable.  As these "discount" airlines continue to add on new fees their profitability surges and more and more fliers choose them because of their low base fares.

The Huffington Post article linked above notes that, so far, the majors have no plans to start charging for things like carry-on bags (placed in the overhead bin) sodas and bottled water, as more and more fliers choose to move their business to the fee-heavy carriers, and their bottom line reflects the increased revenue positively, the days of the bundled ticketing model will be coming to an end.

Bundled ticketing will end despite the hue and cry from the fliers that it shouldn't, that somehow a rock-bottom ticket price should also include premium level service of the type that people experienced in the "good old days".  Wishful thinking of this type ignores two key points: 1.) In the "good old days" airfare was cost prohibitive to all but the wealthy. 2.) Passengers today have revealed themselves to be very price sensitive.

For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding Spirit Airlines (much deserved, it is a terrible airline) there are a surprisingly large number of people who fly with them religiously.  These committed customers do not choose Spirit because they receive good service, or because of the amenities they offer, they do so because a Spirit ticket is, quite often, listed at around $100 less than comparative tickets from other airlines. 

Don't believe me?  Do a simple ITA Matrix search from any two airports Spirit services.  As a sample fare I chose IAH to Orlando leaving July 9th (a Wednesday) returning July 14th (A Tuesday).  These are two of the lowest cost days of travel within the week.  The results?

Spirit is the winner on fares, but what about when it comes to adding in fees?
(for this example it's assumed that all fares were purchased equally. i.e. without the benefit of a branded card)


Fare: $275
Carry on bag fee: $21
Checked bag fee: $26 (assumes one checked bag per person.)
Seat Fee: $25 (The listed rate is $1-$50, I'm cutting it down the middle)
Refreshments: $3.00 (a bottle of water)

Total Spirit charge (per ticket): $350.00 per ticket


Fare: $323
Checked bag fee: $25

Total American Charge: $348/Ticket


Fare: $415
Checked bag fee: $25

Total United Charge: $440

Now, clearly, you can avoid some charges with American and United by purchasing your itinerary with their co-branded credit cards.  How many casual travelers will do that however?  It's also easy to say that Spirit and American are about the same so you should fly American.  This discounts the fact that you have to make a connection with AA, while Spirit's flight is non-stop.  If anything the most direct comparison is with United, and Spirit is a full $90.00 LESS than the airline that calls IAH it's hub.

Given these choices which do you think a family of four is going to select?

If you guessed Spirit, you're probably going to be correct.

And that's the problem with customer surveys which say that "85% of customers dislike paying airline fees".  Of course they dislike it, but there's a very small additional cost that people are willing to pay to ignore those fees, select their own seat in steerage and sit in a seat that reclines ever so slightly.

In a previous post on United's financial worries I stated that SlimLine seats, as uncomfortable as they are, will be the future for all Coach seating. I also think, once the consumer votes with their pocket book, that unbundled fares will be the norm as well.  Whether or not people complain they will (almost) always choose the option that offers the lowest cost and the fewest connections, this is doubly true if they have children.

We can complain and gripe as consumers about airline fees all we want, but until the airlines find a fee that results in significantly reduced ridership (I'm not even sure what that would be at this point) then we're going to find them here to stay.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Brown urges court to legislate from bench (HIS way of course)

In 2009 Annise Parker won election to her first term over four competitors including one former City Councilman Peter Brown. At the time, blogging at the lightly lamented Lose an Eye, It's a Sport, I suggested that Houston could do a lot worse than Controller Parker and predicted she would win.  Since then, Parker has proven to have a tin-ear when it comes to fiscal issues, has shown a tendency to carry out political vendettas, and has proven that her promise to "not be a gay activist" was only campaign rhetoric. In the interim she nullified a long-standing agreement between United/Continental and the City regarding the City's airports, and pushed for a city ordinance regarding city benefits for GLBT spouses shortly before she married her own partner.*

To sum up, Parker has been worse than the Mayor I thought she could be but was still probably the best choice in the 2009 race. A 2013 re-match with former Houston City Attorney Gene Locke proved him to be bereft of ideas, Roy Morales has proven himself to not be an overly serious candidate for anything and as for Peter Brown?

This is behind the Chron's paywall so I'm going to quote sparingly, please go read the entire thing (if you can) for the full story.

Peter Brown, director of Better Houston, a nonprofit urban planning group, sent a letter to the court also. In the letter, Brown, who was on City Council from 2006 to 2010, also sided with the residents.
"A ruling in favor of the developers in this case would perpetuate the unplanned, hap-hazard, inefficient development patterns which negatively impact city life," Brown wrote in part. "A ruling in favor of the developers would unnecessarily limit the authority of the City to enact reasonable rules, standards and incentives to promote important initiatives now underway."
He recommended downsizing the tower to seven stories or 90 feet and to require a public space. He also suggested the judge mandate a basic overhaul of city development regulations to ensure more security for developers for future projects.

The emphasis is mine.

To me, that bold sentence is fairly shocking.  In it we have a former public official rejected as Mayor by 78% of voters FWIW (Brown received 22% of the vote, missing the run-off) openly advocating for the courts to mandate a revision of city ordinances to include things voters have clearly stated they don't want. What is that you ask?  It's very simple, it's zoning. Something for which Brown has openly advocated in the past and, again, Houston voters have soundly rejected.

It is often stated that one's definition of "legislating from the bench" is strictly limited to judicial decisions to which one is opposed.  While there is some truth to this it's unbelievable that a former elected official and part time Houstonian (Brown spends much time in Europe) would so brazenly call for judicial legislation of one of his priorities that has little public support.  In short, he can't convince people to do what he wants so he wants to force them to do it.

Viewed from that perspective, Parker was indeed the best selection.  Hopefully the judge will take a look at his suggestion and laugh.  I have no issue with Brown having a certain vision for Houston and the region, but I take exception to his attempts to try and require us to live under that vision whether we choose to or not.

*Note: While I lean pro-gay marriage the timing and circumstance around Parker's push for equality sure seemed to be of financial benefit to her.

United Continental Holdings is losing money, here's part of the reason why.

While most of the other major domestic airlines are turning profits, United Airlines, and their parent company United Continental Holdings, continue to post huge losses. Over the past couple of days there have been many theories as to why and how United continues to struggle in the face of an industry uptick ranging from operational issues to bad technology to rather weak hub positions.

Each of these theories undoubtedly are partially to blame for United's continued fall and there are probably many other reasons (including inclement weather) that explain the rest. From my perspective however there is one major flaw that United continues to make for which management does not seem to have any desire to fix. To explain, allow me a moment to tell a story that is illustrative and also has the benefit of being 100% true.

Last week a co-worker and I flew on a RT itinerary to Phoenix from Houston for a business conference. Since I still have Gold Premier status with United I booked his ticket at the same time as mine. This allowed him to select Econ+ at the time of purchase as my travel companion.

On the first leg all was well, I was sitting in 8D and my co-worker in 8F as we selected. Amazingly, the flight left on-time, we had no issues, the In-flight entertainment worked and we arrived in PHX slightly ahead of schedule. So far so good.

The problems started on the return leg. First off let me say that on Tuesday morning before we flew out of IAH, I logged on to United.com and we verified both our flight status on Tuesday afternoon and our seat selection for both legs of the trip. As I stated earlier for the out-bound leg nothing was amiss, neither was there any indication that, on Tuesday AM, anything had been "adjusted" on our Friday return leg. When selecting seats for the return leg, I had placed myself in 12D and my co-worker in 12F, basically the same seating configuration as the first leg only a few rows back. Our check of this on Tuesday AM revealed this was still the case. The problems started when I got my automatic check-in e-mail on Thursday morning. (our return flight was scheduled for Friday AM)

I realized we were in trouble when my boarding pass had my seat listed as 11E. That's still econ+ but it's a middle seat which, as anyone will tell you, is very inferior to either an aisle or a window seat.  Fortunately, I was able to re-seat myself in 12C which allowed me to keep an aisle seat.

My co-worker was not so lucky. Upon check-in we included ourselves in the Complementary Premier Upgrade (CPU) list. Because of this our travel agendas were severed.  Now on his own, and no longer tethered to my agenda, my co-worker was kicked out of econ+ and placed in 15F which, in this plane's configuration, is a horrible seat in front of an exit row and will not recline.  Not only did he lose the extra leg room, but he was placed in one of the worst economy seats on the plane.

Before we go further, I understand that there are many different reasons that an airline might need to make a change to a seating arrangement. In this case, it appeared to be an equipment change from a 738 to a 739.  What I don't understand is this:  How can United make changes to an itinerary and provide no notification that they are doing so?  How can you have a computer system that can't keep track of booking details through a mess of changes? And how can you have such a disinterested customer service leadership team to not realize that items such as these are bigger issues than even flight delays?

At minimum we should have been notified earlier than check-in that there was a change. In fact, we should have been notified when the change was made so we could have a chance to react. I say that these snafus are worse than delays because the onus of fixing them lies entirely with the customer. If you're delayed and miss a connection, the airline will automatically re-seat you on the next available flight. Granted, you will still probably have to do some work because the "next available flight" will probably be on the next day.

The problem is, United doesn't even seem to care that they're creating an inconvenience for the customer. Both my co-worker and I took to Twitter where we were engaged by United Customer Service. Normally, this is one of the better CS outlets for the airline. In this case however, the Twitter CS agent belittled my co-worker by suggesting that he "shouldn't have been in Econ+ in the first place" because his "status changed" from when we booked the flights back in February until now.

This was, of course, false. What had changed was that United's computer system did not properly track his status as my travel companion when it split the itineraries and he was forcefully removed from Econ+. When he explained that to the Twitter rep the response was that "your ticket isn't marked with that so there's nothing I can do."  And that's it. No apology, no offer of compensation, nothing. Just a sit on the plane and be happy about it. At least the Twitter CS agent that I corresponded with offered up a "sorry".

To me, this is the crux of the problem for United, they don't care about their customers. They also don't care about their Premier customers or doing anything to make the program worthwhile. If you've flown United of late, you may or may not have noticed that over 50% of passengers are lining up in the queue for boarding group 2. Premier check-in if frequently more crowded, and slower, than regular economy check-in.  At PHX I and my co-worker went through the regular line b/c the Premier line was so congested. I've said this several times before and I'll say it again: If everyone is Premier then no-one is Premier.

United is a company whose customer service culture is rotting, and it's certainly coming from the top. I've seen it suggested that it's possibly time for CEO Jeff Smisek and his team to be shown the door. I'm glad to see it because I've thought this for a while now. If United can't do a better job taking care of ALL of it's customers (and not just the ones in the premium cabins) then they're going to continue to suffer at the hands of their competitors who are. I'm not suggesting a return to the "good old days" of stale peanuts in coach and luxury seats. I understand that SlimLine seats are the future despite them being butt-numbingly uncomfortable. I also don't mind not having a snack, I don't mind IFE going away and being replaced by WiFi.

What I do mind is being treated as an inconvenience by an airline who has failed to provide the service that I paid for, whose computer system cannot keep track of itinerary details when changes occur, and whose attitude is that they have no responsibility to notify me when major changes are made to my trip plan. I also mind lip-service around how I'm valued as a Premier when the actions don't back it up.

United is struggling because people are choosing to shop the competition and they are finding UA to be way behind in almost all areas.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The TLSPM is working overtime to overstate a tenuous connection.

If used selectively, stereotypes can be a powerful political tool. The entire Republican "war on women" is the result of taking the actions of a few, and applying them to many. Used in reverse stereotypes have created the myth that "All Democrats are socialists". These are happy fictions that lead to breathless columns from a group of unthinking political columnists happy to base their career output on what is force-fed to them by political operatives.

Conveniently, this brings us to the subject of today's post.  Peggy Fikac's political column stereotyping Republicans based on the idiotic actions of a staffer for political consultant Allen Blakemore.

It cannot be argued that the act of creating a PAC with the name "Boats n' Hoes" is stupid on a monumental level. We're talking about a 400 year old US Constitution level of idiocy. Even more stupid is using the actions of this one person to imply (directly) that all Republicans are "tone-deaf" when it comes to women's issues.

Clearly the Greg Abbott campaign is not tone-deaf. Despite Fikac suggesting that they are, their proactive call to ChronBlog secretarial journalist Kolten Parker denouncing the action reveals that they're very in tune to the happy mythology she is trying to weave. Were Abbott and Co. truly tone deaf, they'd take a passive stance and let the Davis campaign take the lead.

The rest of the Fikac column is nothing more than a protracted apology for Davis poor performance in recent polls. Again, she's allowing the use of stereotypes by lumping in all minority and young voters into the category of "no home phones".

Political columns such as these do the public a disservice. This is something I've said before and I'll continue to say it as long as it's true. Yes, there are Republicans out there who have a women's issue problem, minority issues problems and economic issues problems. That doesn't mean that all Republicans have the same traits. And it certainly doesn't mean that the Abbott campaign should be defined by State Senator Dan Patrick's consulting firm.

Selective use of stereotypes can run both ways. Back when the Super Bowl was in Houston Peggy Fikac's employer ran breathless coverage of "Pimp n' Ho" balls suggesting that, using the same logic, Ms. Fikac herself might potentially be tone deaf when it comes to issues relating to women and human trafficking.

Taking a broader look, one could use Ms. Fikac's column to assume that all members of the Texas Lock Step Political Media are unquestioning cyphers whose only focus is to regurgitate information disseminated to them by more-intelligent political operatives.

Either that, or we could forgo this entire silly exercise and start looking at each campaign on it's merits.  It involves a significantly larger amount of research and time, but it would certainly be the best way to serve the Texas voting public.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Even if serious issues are given unserious treatment by politicians, the media does us no favors in doing the same.

Yesterday I mentioned a rather sorry piece of political theater orchestrated by John Thornton's Texas Tribune who seem to be struggling in finding a balance between reporting their news-ish stories in a somber manner and catering to Evan Smith's carnival barker tendencies.  In this case, the carnival-barker won and, despite few Texans even realizing what was happening, the very serious matter of immigration reform was reduced to a juvenile back-n-forth between two of Texas' most diminutive political figures.

While some of the TLSPM chose to take the matter (somewhat) seriously Houston's hometown newspaper hid it's news treatment of the event behind it's pay-wall while releasing a juvenile slide-show on it's free site.

Unsurprisingly, most of the "straight" coverage focuses heavily on Mr. Castro, who is a TLSPM darling despite little-evidence to show he's the 'rising-star' they are painting him to be.

For Chron.com however the increasing prevalence of hokey-juvenile content is troubling, as it undercuts the contentions of the new Editor-in-Chief Nancy Barnes that she's planning on steering the USS Chronicle back onto solid journalistic footing. It also doesn't speak well for new Managing Editor Vernon Loeb, who has spent more time retweeting leftist causes and activist groups on his Twitter feed than he apparently has working on the reporting.

None of this bodes well for the future of political journalism in Houston. Nor does it reflect well on the information delivered to citizens of the entire Metro region.  If the Chronicle is continuing to abdicate it's throne as the newspaper of record, then there's precious little reason to pay any attention to them at all except on Sunday, for ads and coupons.

I know, from personal experience, that there are still some good front-line journalists over at the Chronicle but they're being given a background role to the on-line, pretty slide-show team.  No matter which way you look at it, this is a bad development. It's already bad enough that the Texas Tribune is pushing much of the agenda for the TLSPM, although one could argue that it's just the name on the masthead that's changed.

Back during the Bush Governorship, it was Paul Burka writing columns and articles that gave the TLSPM their marching orders. Today the "Dean of Texas Political Journalism" is out of touch and out of ideas. He (and Wayne Slater for that matter) have been reduced to fitting their personal obsessions (For Burka it's Perry, for Slater it's Rove) into almost every issue whether it fits or not.

Bad, grandstanding politicians have always, and will always, be with us. What has changed dramatically over time is the way the media handles them.  Before their antics were reported on and treated in an adult manner.  Eventually the demagogues slipped up and were outed as idiots. Today's media, especially the TLSPM, chooses to view some of them as icons, while trying to portray the one's whose ideas they don't like as firmly in the mainstream of the party with which they disagree.

This is horrible political journalism, but it's what we're reduced to in Texas today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Castro/Patrick Immigration debate: Lying in the mud with pigs.

In the end, both candidates looked petty and small.

While there's sure to be much chest-pounding and victory-claiming by both sides, last night's made for Texas Tribune immigration debate between Texas Senator and Lieutenant Governor front-runner Dan Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was more about regression than advancement.

Certainly partisans of a "my side is always best" type, political bloggers hoping to touch the hem of the King's garment and the Texas Lock Step Political Media will prance around claiming their pugilist of choice was clearly the winner in a debate that had no winners, only losers. 

Julian Castro lost because he lowered himself to Patrick's level.  Not only did he attempt to one-up the Senator in bombastic name-calling but he, quite often, allowed Patrick's radio-friendly style of debate to cause him to lose his cool.  For a rising political star on the left Castro showed that he could be baited into name-calling over policy fairly easily and by a politician without strong debate skills to boot.  State Senator Dan Patrick is a fine orator, he's good at a monologue but he is not a candidate for captain of the debate team.  If you can't work in a reasoned, fact-supported argument against this guy you're probably not the shining-star you've been made out to be by the TLSPM and the Texas Democratic Party.

State Senator Dan Patrick lost because his grasp on the facts and his previous rhetoric made this an impossible debate for him to win.  Throw away lines like "illegal invasion" and "disease-riddled immigrants" play very well to a certain highly-irascible segment of the base, but they are very hard concepts to defend in a room full of adults, using facts instead of hyperbole. Under the Dan Patrick school of politics you find a hot-button issue, make a series of grandiose statements designed to inflame the base, act reasonable after the furor dies down, then move on to the next hot-button issue without really accomplishing anything (see: property taxes).

That said Mr. Patrick was a winner in this debate as well. In part because it was live streamed on Texas Tribune, which meant only about 1% of the Texas population was paying even the slightest bit of attention.  Even IF you assume that most major media outlets run with the story today, the percentage of Texans who will be exposed to this is (I'm guessing) well under 10%. In order to face severe trouble in the Republican primary run-off for Lieutenant Governor against incumbent David Dewhurst Patrick would have to commit a horrendous error along the lines of Clayton Williams "if  rape is inevitable then why not just sit back and enjoy it" stunner that ushered Ann Richards into office.  That didn't happen in this debate so the big loser is.........

Lt. Governor David H. Dewhurst.

I really think this was the last gasp for Mr. Dewhurst. I don't see how he has any path to victory now that Patrick has survived the trap created by his own ego.  Given the tenor and tone of statements coming from Team Starched Shirt, I don't think Dewhurst is going to drop out but I might go as far to say he should consider it. 

Tuesday night was Dewhurst's last gasp, by continuing to move forward his campaign is just animating a corpse and blowing through a small piece of the Lieutenant Governor's not insignificant personal fortune.

Last night did provide some clarity on three fronts.  We now know that the political career of David H. Dewhurst is coming to an end, that we're soon to have a blowhard sitting in the Lieutenant Governor's office and that the ceiling for Julian Castro is much lower than we thought.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Where too many elected Texas Republicans get it 100% wrong.

The (still) niche industry of craft beer might seem like an odd canary in the coal-mine for Texas Republican political fortunes. The comments by one Texas House Republican reveal a very-big blind spot for the state's Grand Old Party.

Report: Texas Lawmaker has heated words for Texas Craft Brewer. Ronnie Crocker, Beer, TX at Chron.com
Testimony in Austin this week from Scott Metzger on behalf of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild appear to have struck a nerve with state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. In comments published by the Texas Beverage Industry Journal, he called them “crap.”
“I’m very disappointed that he’s bringing this up, and I’m not going to go into the next session with a very good taste in my mouth with him starting this crap this early,” Geren, a restaurant owner and House chairman, told the Texas Beverage Industry Journal on Friday. “It is the law, and I’m going to fight to keep it the law.”

At issue was a bill that Rep. Geren sponsored which basically stripped owners of craft breweries of their own distribution rights, providing the large distributors  free-access to increasingly large bucket of money. Not surprisingly, the beer, wine and liquor industry holds the number 3 spot in Geren's list of biggest donors.

This is not to single out Geren, there are plenty of examples of this throughout the State on both sides of the political aisle. As a matter of fact, you'd have to look long and hard to see evidence of a State elected official taking a stance contrary to those that fund his/her campaign. The problem, as is evidenced around the State, is that Republicans as a whole have at once forgotten the tenets of the Reagan Doctrine while fighting to see who can best fit into his underwear on the campaign trail.

The Tea Party?  Sorry, try again.  They started from lean roots but have morphed to a caricature of themselves wandering around without clearly stated goals, without a base understanding of what the State needs to do (roads, education, water, infrastructure) in lieu of deciding that, seemingly, the State needs to do nothing.

The second problem with the Tea Party movement in Texas is that they've allowed themselves to be defined and co-opted by one Dan (Goeb) Patrick.  Sen. Patrick (Soon to be Lt. Gov if polling is accurate) is nothing if not a political opportunist. His initial anti-government lean has been replaced by a doctrine based on rule by intellectual betters (of which he imagines himself one) and government solutions looking for problems to solve. His on/off/on love-affair with property tax cuts is indicative of this.

The rise of the Tea Party has left the establishment Republican group (such as Geren) running back to their moneyed interests hoping to retain power through big-business connections without properly explaining their reasons for doing so.  That Geren, financially reliant on business groups such as the beer/wine/liquor distributors for his political life, is so quick to dismiss as "crap" the severance of real value from small business speaks volumes of how far the needle has moved.

Back in the days before the Republican ascendance in Texas establishment Republicans were moderate Democrats. Most of them read the political tea-leaves and wore-down a hasty path to the GOP door once it became apparent that having a (D) behind ones name would be political suicide in an increasingly red state. The problem for the GOP now is that these political nomads find the idea of working with the ideologically driven right abhorrent.  It's so beyond their political field of vision as to be outer Mongolia.

Given this the silly question asked by well-passed-his-prime political writer Paul Burka of "Can the Republicans Govern?" is actually turning out to be a salient one. Not because of any political foresight on the part of Burka (he was referring to the initial wave of establishment Republicans, and could not foresee the rising of the house of Tea) but because of the compliance of the GOP in buying into the "faction war" myth cultivated by the Texas Lockstep Political Media.

What the TLSPM relies on fully is their myths being given credence by the leadership class. The Democrats are willing because, typically, those constructs dove-tail with their attempts to get back in power. Amazingly however, it appears that some in the GOP are willing as well. Not only is this self-defeating but it leads to a lot of silly intra-party carping over the 20% of things on which the sides disagree.

At their heart, political parties are not homogenous organizations marching in lock-step on each and every issue. The Democrats are a coalition of special interest groups all with a political axe to grind. Only recently has there been signs that these groups are willing to start pulling in much the same direction.  The GOP is a mix of center-right, big business establishment interests, movement and social conservatives. Right now the latter two groups are certainly have their hands on the wheel and are steering the HMS Reagan's Underwear in a direction the establishment does not want it to go.

Where Texas Republicans are getting it wrong is that they don't seem to understand that the direction the ship should go is in the opposite direction in which all are currently fighting to steer.  Republicans do best when they argue based on individual freedom and business opportunity for all. They do the worst when they engage in pugilism with immigrant groups and big, wet, sloppy kisses with big business. Republicans need to reclaim the mantle of champion of small business, to remember that the way to build wealth is to support the middle-class, not take from it valuable assets as a hand-out to moneyed interests. They stray too far from these roots at their long-term peril.

While I don't think Texas Democrats have strong enough candidates to make inroads in 2014, I do see a time in the near future where enough of the new, transplanted Texans decide enough is enough and decide to vote in familiar-feeling candidates who are similar in nature to those who have all but ruined the States they came from.

The Evil monoculture can only be defeated when the great culture wins.

Monoculture has always been a dirty word by those who are involved in it's establishment.

In our race to move the American food supply almost wholly to soy and corn we've forgotten what it means to have a diverse food supply that's readily available to the poor and lower-middle class.  I am not referring to so-called food deserts which are ill-defined, horrid constructs of the grocery industry who really just want to get around land-use restrictions allowing them to sell alcohol and tobacco products closer to schools and churches than previously allowed.

Current monoculture, as defined by New Urbanist and eco-mentalist types, is any culture that deviates from their urban ideal of elbow to asshole living conditions with high rises, even higher retail prices and even higher still rents which are designed to keep out the riff-raff.

Monoculture can also take on an aesthetic tone. Your ideal McMansion is suddenly a shining beacon of misguided monoculture that must be washed away under the monoculture of bungalows and 'historical structures' that must be maintained and 'restored' to a modern version of their original glory despite it being very cost prohibitive to do so.

From a values and morals perspective the best line I've seen recently was that "the left has won the cultural wars and are now going around picking off the survivors."  I believe it was Jon Gabriel who tweeted this out but if not I apologize to the author. The monoculture of ideas is sprouting faster than a high-yield corn field in today's America, moving one step short of the point where pitchforks and flaming torches are tools of the trade.

So in all facets of modern American life we are moving toward monoculturalism all the while bemoaning the sad legacy of monoculture. Through a joint-partnership between the government and media we are quashing the multi-cultural debate that ran through American society.  As the media picks winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas it becomes increasingly obvious that having a dissenting view is no longer patriotic as it was during the Bush Presidency. Any dissent is now quickly moved to the extremist junk-pile where mass chastisement and exile from the public square are soon to come. If you're really unlucky there will be calls to take your career away as well. Soon any deviance from the monocultural doctrine will be treated as heresy and the unclean will be burned at the alter of inclusion and tolerance for all those except the intolerant.

In some cities (Houston being one of them) aesthetic monoculturism (as well as environmental monoculturism) is being promoted full bore.  It's not enough to think that people have the right to bicycle, walk, ride the train to work while living in a New Urbanist approved Nirvana located close to markets where you can sip from the nectar of the local bee merchant while dining on dandelion salad harvested from what used to be the front lawns of horrid suburban homes and strip centers, you have to be desirous of that lifestyle yourself. Any deviance from the established culture marks one as either a murderer of Gaia (that should be arrested, for what it's worth) or someone so daft as that you breathe through your mouth and possibly emit as much methane as a cow from your rear-end.

The biggest problem that all of this presents is the death of open debate, of civility (which, some might argue, died in America long ago) and of individualism.  After all, when there's only one accepted dogma, and that dogma works to destroy all opposing ideas, then there's really nothing to differentiate people or to cause them to strive for individual achievement.

It's trendy today to bemoan the lack of political accountability, to knock one party or the other for being either the voice of big government or the voice of big corporations. What we've failed to realize in all of this is that we truly are getting the government we've asked for, the government we deserve, and a government that's powerful enough to not only eliminate those things which we don't like but also one possessing the power to start eliminating those things we do.

In one of his many books British auto-journalist/humorist Jeremy Clarkson characterized the difference between America and Great Britain as follows:  "In America, they see a man driving a Rolls Royce and think 'One day, I'll have one of those' while in Britain we see the same man and think 'One day, I'll have him out of that'."  Instead of following the original goal of spreading our freedom and social mobility to the rest of the world we've done the opposite. We've become that which we used to mock, and we've done it willingly. That we don't realize what we've done is just a sign of how effective the government/media complex has been in stripping us of our freedoms.

We've demanded they do this to us.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Putting Vasoline on the lens of Sunday Streets.

Judging by the Chronicle headline, Houston's recent "Sunday Streets" boondoggle was an enormous success.

Thousands enjoy closed roads during Houston's Pilot Program. Jayme Fraser, Chron.com

A rousing success story then, huge throngs of people out in the elements taking advantage of a myriad of (taxpayer funded) entertainment options for four hours on a Sunday.  And then you read the story itself....

Despite intermittent rain in the first two hours of the event, police, who were guiding traffic away from the street, reported at 1 p.m. that they had counted 2,000 people at the event so far.

That's two thousand attendees, out of approximately 6.3 Million residents in the Houston Metro Region. That's .03% of the population if you're keeping score.  For this tiny slice of the pie there were enormous resources dedicated to traffic control, entertainment and public safety.  While the incurious secretarial journalist at the Chronicle obviously didn't think to ask, I would be the taxpayer expenditures for this failure of a program must have reached five figures.  This in a time when Houston is struggling to find enough dollars in the budget to keep all of the fire-engines and ambulances on the street.

The problem with ChronBlog, and this event, is that it's not really about growing neighborhoods or making Houston a better place, it's really about promoting an agenda set by the unproductive class.  That group of people desperately wishes that Houston was more like Portland with it's coupling of high rents and impossible access keeping the poor and unenlightened out of the city core.  As BlogHouston asked: Do we really want a transit system and public policy whose main goal seems to be creating play-things for the affluent?

That's the big concern, that what we're getting in Houston isn't something to help the poor and lower-middle class improve their station but rather to move them out of the way for other chosen groups.  We're hiding it behind the façade of health and quality of life when the truth appears to be much less wholesome.

The next event will close down a busy section of Westheimer, one of the vital traffic conduits inside the Loop.  I'm sure the weather will be nicer, and 'thousands' of people will attend.  I just can't help but wonder how many of them will be poor families?  After all, these programs weren't designed for them.


Friday, April 04, 2014

Dear Conan, the biggest problem is that it wasn't that funny.

Here we go again Houston, another 'national' figure has made some disparaging remarks about our fair region (this time in Dallas) and, according to our triumvirate of media suck (The Chronicle, CultureMap Houston and Houstonia) this is something we need to get hot and bothered about because rivalry with Dallas...something, something. To their credit, so far as I can find, the Houston Press has deemed this to be the non-story that it is.

The biggest problem with Conan's ditty is that, much like his show over the last year, it wasn't very funny.  And I say this as one that liked Conan and used to be a semi-regular viewer of his show.  During the entire Leno affair I was on Conan's side. While he is certainly unorthodox he can also be, at times, very witty and bitingly funny. As is too often the case lately however, his jokes are falling flat.

The real offense here is that Conan took a huge swing at a city with a ton of comic potential, and missed badly.  To whit:

 - Houston is a city that is way too concerned about what others think of us. It's true. Human nature perhaps, but true nevertheless. If you want to anger a member of Houston's non-productive class try telling them that another city has something over us, that we don't have enough walkers, that we're sprawled out, that New York City has more public transportation, that Dallas is on TV more even. The smallest slight over the most insignificant thing is sure to bring hilarity.

 - Our political leaders have zero vision. Hell, we can't even procure funding for a New Year's Eve celebration. As local-small-time political star Carol Alvarado once said, we get "evented out". Can you imagine New York deciding they just didn't want to do the whole Times Square ball drop one year? Exactly.

 - We have under 20 miles of light rail. Let that sink in for a minute. Because considering what a petty amount we have it's certainly given an inordinate amount of attention by the non-productive and leadership set. What we have the potential for is a (pardon the phrase) world-class bus system but there's no political will to build it out because it's just not 'cool'.

 - The Houston Astros/Texans. 'Nuff said.

 - When you do hear about the Light Rail, it's typically in relation to cars/pedestrians/bicyclists slamming into it.

 - Metro's procurement history.

 - The Ike Dike is something being taken seriously.

 - People are actively lobbying for more to ride their bicycles to work, in August.

 - The Crossley family.

All of the above were target rich environments that Conan could have chosen to attack. Instead, he attacks our smog (which, is still better than the smog in LA, where Conan hails from) and our oil and gas industry which is, you know, actually creating jobs and wealth.  These are not things to get worked up over but they are reasons to point fingers at Conan and laugh our collective asses over.

For Conan, ratings are falling faster than Houston's reputation.  So, there's that as well.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Parker Twitters as Houston Burns.

As noted by Kevin Whited of BlogHouston:

Annise Parker takes executive staff to pricey Heights area restaurant, for lunch.

A quick review of the Crisp menu (PDF) reveals entrée price points somewhere in the $20-30 range. This doesn't include appetizers, dessert or drinks.  True, there appears to be a $9.75 daily lunch special which is a good value but it doesn't appear that Mayor Parker took advantage of that deal.

Based on her "a little pricey" comment I'm guessing the average ticket per person was somewhere in the $50 range. Since a comment was made about the bar can it also be assumed that this was an old-fashioned 3 Martini lunch? Apparently, if you're working in the Parker administration it's very profitable to be on the executive staff but very difficult to be almost anywhere else.

The default response from ruling class courtiers will be that this staff "works hard" and that they deserve these little perks.  I'm sure they do.  Of course, one could argue that the rank-and-file members of the Fire Department, Police Department, Public Works and other staff that directly serves the public works very hard as well.  Parker's priorities are such that they are suffering huge cuts (in some cases, mostly for what appears to be political reasons) while the Queen's court is dining on cake.

Yes, this lunch was a small-ticket item and, by itself, has almost no bearing on the city's budget as a whole. However, it's very clear that the Mayor has a tin-ear when it comes to appearances and just how gluttonous her office is coming across.  Annise Antoinette anyone?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Abbott's "Rough Start"

To understand why Wayne Slater, Democratic/Progressive Dallas Morning News political columnist, has described The Abbott campaign's start as "rough" you have to understand his position on the election Re: Wendy! Davis.

A quick review of Slater's recent writings reveals a pattern of condemning State Republican candidates through guilt by association and defending Wendy! Davis through nuance.  When Slater is critical of Wendy! It's in the form of constructive criticism. One almost gets the impression Slater would be quite happy putting in a little time on the phone banks for the Democratic nominee.

Were Slater confined to opinion columns, I would have no problem with this.  He's a known Democrat and he's entitled to his opinion.  While not an especially talented writer (the man is in dire need of editing most times) he has the benefit of "being around for a long time" which, in the kiddie-pool of the Texas Lockstep Political Media means that he's viewed as somewhat of an expert on many subjects (See: Burka, Paul for more).

This doesn't mean that everything Slater writes is Pro Wendy!  Quite the contrary. It was Slater, after all, who raised questions about Wendy! Davis' autobiography. Of course, he immediately turned around and accused people who had problems with Wendy's narrative of being partisan hacks. 

That's my problem with "reporters" who are allowed to both report "news" and then opine on it the very next day.   They're allowed to set the agenda, and then tear it down at their leisure.  Slater framed the Wendy! autobiography ambiguously, and then used his opinion pulpit to accuse people who seized on it of being political opportunists.

He's now doing the same thing against the Abbott campaign.  It's no secret that the Greg Abbott stumbles meme is something that was first forwarded by Lefty bloggers. This is OK, and it's something you would expect to see from partisans.  In many cases the professional bloggers O' the Right have done the same thing toward Wendy!  This is what political blogs do.

What is unusual is watching the TLSPM go whole-hog for the Abbott campaign is incompetent story line while ignoring the fact that Wendy! Davis has been stepping on her own (famous) tennis shoes as well.

Neither candidate has ran a model campaign to this point.  In my view Abbott has done a moderately better job then Wendy! Davis because he's, at least, focusing on things that would concern a majority of Texas voters.  There's ample evidence that the Wendy! Davis strategy of abortion/big spending on education and....Republicans are mean! is not winning over the hearts and minds of Texas voters, neither are her repeated shots against Abbott's physical disability. Then there was her odd decision to blame Abbott for her biography inaccuracies.

I get that the TLSPM would love to have a real gubernatorial race on their hands for a change, but it's becoming more and more likely that Wendy! Davis is not the one who's going to provide it.  I've said for a while now that the number one problem facing Texas Democrats is a lack of credible candidates for statewide races.  From perennial candidate Chris Bell to Rick Noriega to Bill White to Barbara Ann Radnofsky to Leticia Van de Putte to Wendy! Davis to (my favorite) David Van Os.  Regardless of your political leanings, that's a fairly weak slate of candidates who have been bashing up against the Republican fortifications in Texas for over a decade now.  For Democrats to win, they're going to have to find candidates with whom people can relate and who can craft a message that's more than "spend more money, war on women! and White men suck!"

Until then, all of the TLSPM rambling about Abbott having a "rough start" is just that, media rambling.  And, as we're finding out, more and more people aren't paying much attention to what the TLSPM has to say anyway, choosing to get their news from other locations.

If Rick Perry's Governorship did anything, it proves how much of a circle-jerk the TLSPM has become.  He ignored them, and won. I have a feeling Abbott would do much better if he realized he doesn't need them either.